Neil Young And Daniel Lanois: Love And War

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

How did a song like “Love and War” come into existence? It has this self-referential movie-within-a-movie dynamic when you sing, “I sang in anger, hit another bad chord, but I still try to sing about love and war.” Did the song begin with those words?

NY: I just started playing A minor in E, and going back and forth and going, well, that’s interesting. That sounds like something that’s been around for a long time but I’ve never heard it. Then I started singing, making up the words, you know. “When I sing about love and war, I don’t really know what I’m saying.” After that it all started coming out.

Your writing on that particular song feels like a conversation. It seems over the past few albums you’ve dropped a lot of the metaphor and a lot of the poetry and you’re really almost reporting on your life. Was that a conscious effort, or is that just how the songs came to you?

NY: Well, that song is pretty plain speaking. It’s pretty direct.

Your last few albums have been more autobiographical and less metaphoric than things you’ve done in the past. What do you attribute that to?

NY: I just started to explore my own beliefs, and it was just a natural thing. I find it hard to talk about those things and generally I don’t. Well, I don’t like to, and I certainly don’t want to judge anyone else’s beliefs. Sometimes just stating your own beliefs does that. So I tend not to. All faiths are just stories to me. And I’m a story writer and I look at these and I go, these are classic stories, you know, Buddhism, Christianity, they’re all the same story. And I think, “Let’s just remember that. Step back, it’s a story. It’s a metaphor, nothing less, nothing more.”

What about on Le Noise?

NY: Yeah. I think so. I’m not sure there’s some saga. “Sign of Love” is not exactly like that. “Sign of Love” is in a landscape, walking on the land and stuff. It’s pretty broad. And even “Walk With Me” is not really very specific. Most of the songs are pretty wide on this record, but the ones you mentioned aren’t. There’s “Hitchhiker” and “Love and War,” they’re pretty direct. But “Hitchhiker”’s even more so. It’s about a memory. It’s the drug chronicles. Drug chronicles, TMI. That’s like a TV show, you know?

So why record it now?

NY: Well, I just finished it.

You mean adding another verse?

NY: Yeah. Finishing was important. The song never could have been done without those verses.

Do you have a lot of things that…

NY: Unfinished songs? Yeah.

And you return to them?

NY: Yeah, I’ll go back and I’ll go, “Well, I never put that out.” Why? And I’ll go, “Well, it’s not done.” Then when it’s finished it’s easy to put it out. When it’s not finished, you might try to put it out, you may record it but you’ll never release it. So I have recordings of “Hitchhiker” from the ‘70s but there was never any reason to put it out. I felt like, “Whoa, that’s not really a good idea.”

For a drug chronicle, it’s pretty upbeat at the end. You almost end it on a prayer.

NY: Yeah, it’s kind of like that. But it’s good that way. I wouldn’t have the prayer if I hadn’t finished the song.

Especially because if you’d finished it in the ‘70s you would have prayed for other things. If you’d prayed at all.

NY: Yeah. Where I am now is, it’s okay to do that. I never could get there before, so it’s all right.


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